June 1, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

Cell phones to take flight

FAQ Air travelers beware: Cell yell at 30,000 feet is coming.

As shown by the flurry of comments filed with the Federal Communications Commission in the past few days, there's a consensus building to relax rules that since 1991 have banned cell phone use on U.S. commercial flights.

Now the hard work begins--deciding to what extent to ease the rules. U.S. law enforcement, which doesn't like the idea at all, and lobbyists at the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association represent the two extremes of the argument. The questions and answers here focus on when the rules will be relaxed, the technology that'll make it happen and why there's a ban in the first place.

News.context

What's new:
Consensus is building to relax rules that since 1991 have banned cell phone use on U.S. commercial flights.

Bottom line:
These questions and answers focus on why the rules exist, when they will be relaxed and what technology will be at the center of it all.

More stories about cell phone use on planes.

When will I be able to make a cell phone call on an airplane?
Don't expect the rules to be relaxed until December 2006 at the earliest, and it'll more likely be early 2007. The Federal Aviation Administration has the ultimate say, and it's waiting for the second phase of a study being conducted by an advisory agency, the RTCA, or Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics. The private, nonprofit company was organized under the Federal Advisory Committee Act. The second phase of the RTCA's report, to include its recommendations, is due by December 2006.

Will my cell phone call cause interference?
Maybe by then the industry will have found the answer to nagging interference issues the FCC believes are now clearly still in evidence. The commission noted in the Feb. 16, 2005, order that began its investigation of easing the cell phone rules that "while some assert that the technology exists that will allow cell phones...we are not prepared to take this step...without further development of the record on possible technical solutions."

The FCC continued: "While some say phones can be used on aircraft without causing unwanted interference, no party has provided sufficient detail explaining how eliminating the ban would actually work."

Can I make a call on board a plane?
There are a number of ways. One involves the familiar seat-back phones. Another involves the relatively new tandem of more broadband-enabled airplanes, and the voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, software to let Internet connections double as a phone line.

Why the cell phone ban?
The cell phone ban went into effect in 1991, mostly to eliminate the possibility that cell phone calls on airplanes would interfere with cell conversations on the ground, as well as with the airplane's radio communications.

The FCC cited effects of "frequency re-use," which is a fundamental cell phone principle that's helped mobile phones proliferate worldwide. The signal from a cell phone doesn't go on forever; the energy to propel it dissipates after a number of miles, and it dissipates more quickly if it bounces off buildings, hills and other obstacles. This allows the same frequencies to be re-used by operators in different markets sometimes just a few miles apart.

A cell phone signal falling to Earth from a phone aboard a plane encounters no significant obstacles to slow it down, so it's strong enough to reach the ground and find a network on its particular frequency. But if the airwaves belong to a different operator, there's likely to be "noise" and other forms of interference for everybody, the FCC believes.

Ban, what ban?
The 1991 ban hasn't kept people from using their cell phones while in flight, whether it's to secretly scroll through office e-mail, or

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22 comments

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This is acceptable on one condition
Aircraft will have to be segregated.

The plane must be divided into "Cell" and "No Cell" sections. I flat out refuse to have to listen to some drunk college girl yammer on about just how drunk she is, who is trying to speak over the Japanese business man, who is trying to speak over the twelve million screaming babies, who are trying to scream over the consistent drone of the engines.

Or orient the pico cell such that it's really only accessible at the back of the plane in a confined room. Either way, get them out of the main cabin.

People who demand the ability to use their cells on a plane should also pay a premium for their fare. Being that connected while you're six miles above the ground is a convenience, not a right.
Posted by Christopher Hall (1205 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Dude, GET A LIFE!
C'mon! If you need that much privacy and peace, get your whiny
butt out of society. You seem like a little twirp that has to have
everything your way or else you whine like a little girl. I bet you
were an only child that never learned to play well with others.
Sheesh.
Posted by (57 comments )
Link Flag
Not Possible
I mean, even though you are sitting in a "no-cell" zone, you can still hear people shouting, cursing, whining, laughing and crying on their phones. My suggestion? Listen to some music while you are on the plane, or just watch movies with headsets :)
Posted by 201293546946733175101343322673 (722 comments )
Link Flag
through the roof
If someone needs to use a cell phone they should use the built in ones on the back of the seat. Since it costs $2 a minute, people don't use them for stupid chit-chat. So keep those phones with their deterrant to pointless talking and continue the ban on cell phones.

One thing is certain - while on cell phones, people loose all sense of common etiquite. We know that to be true on the ground, on the train, everywhere else except the plane, because people haven't been talking on the plane before. As soon as they start everyone will see. No headphone or earplug will help.
Posted by sanenazok (3449 comments )
Link Flag
It's insane
It's insane that I can't use my iPod until the plane reaches 10,000
feet. Is this tiny little device going to bring down the aircraft? I
think not. These airlines are a bit uptight (or more fairly, the FAA).
Use some reason people.
Posted by (57 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Maybe......
FAA is worring that, if enough people are using iPods on the plane, people's hummings and singings will distract the pilots? :)
Posted by 201293546946733175101343322673 (722 comments )
Link Flag
NO to inflight cell phone use
We're continually surrounded by cell phone use in stores, restaurants, buses, etc. I fly at least once a month for business. I've learned to appreciate the relative quite while on a flight. I find it's a gift to do some work on my laptop, read, watch a movie, listen to music, think, plan or just relax. I can't understand why people think they need to be connected ALL the time.
Posted by ScottRay (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Cell phone taps, & big brother
At least one of the American flights that hit the WTC had a flight attendant telling what was happening to her ground contact at the airline. Barbara Olsen, wife of then solicitor general at D of Justice, left message for him before impact. And the United that crashed in PA also had a lot of ground contact. One of the reasons we know significant details of what was really going on.

Would a tap on these with ability to terminate contact have given us more information? If you believe this I have a railroad between LAX nnd Honolulu that I will sell cheap.

Too bad common sense takes leave in homeland (in)security!

It would be interesting to get some comments from the 9-11 commission members on this one!
Posted by bigduke (78 comments )
Link Flag
what an awful idea
i can't think of anything worse than allowing cell phone usage on a plane. people drive me nuts already just by using it while boarding, they have to be much louder so they can be heard over the engine noise and the others around them.

the plane is a great place to read or get work done and that won't be at all possible with some loudmouth yelling into his phone to be heard over the engine roar.
Posted by taxedToDeath (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Top 5 conversation annoyances
It seems that we are all in agreement at the annoyance factor of cell phone conversations. Here are my top 5, what are yours?

1) Cell phone conversation.
2) Those who have a habit of making eye contact with every stranger around while they talk, and speaking real loud so that everyone can hear.
3) Those who can't stop talking and very rarely let the other person speak (I think that one's a disease or something).
4) Vulgar conversation (save it for the fishing trip will you?).
5) Constant outbursts of loud laughter.
Posted by Juster444 (33 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Guilty conscience
> Those who have a habit of making eye contact with every stranger around while they talk

That's because they know they're being annoying. :)
Posted by Anonymous1234567890 (53 comments )
Link Flag
cell phone usage on planes
There was an interesting article in the New York Times several weeks ago. A recent study revealed that close to 25% of callers really weren't speaking to anyone at all! Apparently some people are desperate for attention.
Posted by Tucsontony (2 comments )
Link Flag
No to cell phones in flight!
In my opinion, people that insist on exposing others to their phone calls in public whether they be in stores, trains, planes (NO!) are compensating for some form of inadequecy. That's the only thing I can think of.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
some form of inadequecy
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Posted by George Cole (314 comments )
Link Flag
This is a bad idea
I catch a commuter bus at 5:30am and ride an hour to work and have to put up with these self important people who feel they must carry on a cell phone conversation the whole way. I do not even want to think of the frustrations of having to put up with this on a 5-8 hour flight.
If the FCC passes this, it will just be an added frustration along with rude airline employees, bad (if any) food, and uncomfortable seats. You add all this up and sadly there is the potential for a physical altercation at 30,000 feet.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
There's a bit more to it
The most critical phases of flight are below 10,000 feet. You are asked to keep your electronic devices off not only to keep any interference from occurring with navigation/communication equipment but so that passengers can hear any necessary announcements from the cockpit or cabin crews. More emergency landings begin below 10,000 feet than any other phase of flight.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

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